Wednesday, September 17, 2008

John McCain: Dead Man Walking?

Controversial unretouched photo of John McCain by Jill Greenberg (Controversial unretouched photo of John McCain by Jill Greenberg)

When I moved to San Francisco in 1978, within a week I met another young radical, Dusty, who had moved there the week before from Nebraska. We quickly became close friends, and she remained one of the best friends I ever had. At age 40, she gave up waiting for the perfect partner to come along and arranged to get pregnant on her own. Eventually she had Tom, a beautiful little boy who gave her life all its meaning from that point on.

When Tom was four, I went back for a visit and stayed with them for a week. After he went to bed the first night, she said "I want to show you something." She pulled up her pants cuff and pointed out a faint spot on her ankle. She said "This didn't used to be here. I'm worried it's cancer."

I am not a doctor and have no medical training, but at that time I worked in a major cancer clinic and I saw skin cancer daily. I bent over her ankle, peered at the spot and said "I dunno. I think it's probably some kind of freckle, but you should have it checked out by somebody who's competent, not me." She said she planned to -- she was in the medical field, and responsible. Her own mother had died of cancer when Dusty was five, and it had been a loss she'd never quite overcome, in part because her mother lied to her about her terminal condition and promised she'd be coming back from the hospital when she went in to die.

Not long after I returned to Texas, Dusty called me and said it was melanoma. She was fair-skinned, had always been diligent about using sunscreen, but it had occurred anyhow. She began rigorous treatment. I never saw her again. She was dead within the year, leaving Tom without his mother at age five, just as Dusty had grown up. It's so hard to think about this tragedy, I actually try to suppress the memory. I've never written about it.

Last week, when I got the letter from Robert Greenwald talking about John McCain's refusal to release his medical records to fair scrutiny, the fact that there are 1,000 pages of them (I create medical records for a living, 1,000 pages is EXTREME), and the news that he has had malignant melanoma, deep primaries with removal of lymph nodes, my immediate thought was "Then he's dying." If he were to be elected, he'd have an almost 2 out of 3 chance of having a recurrence if he doesn't have one already. This is not the kind of cancer you count on escaping from. This is not Stage II, as it has been reported: Stage II by definition does not have lymph node involvement. By definition, it must be either Stage III or Stage IV.

When I worked in the cancer clinic, my favorite doctor there, Dr. S., the one I went to when I got my own cancer diagnosis, was known for being extremely blunt with his patients. There were several physicians on staff, so the intake nurses screened a new patient to assess whether they wanted a doctor who was going to use euphemisms and hopeful language or whether they wanted honesty at all costs. If they wanted honesty, they got Dr. S. He ate lunch with us whenever he could, and one day he explained why he didn't offer people language they could use to deny the seriousness of their condition. (Because of the nature of our practice there, half the patients coming through the doors were likely to die -- we didn't get the easy cases.) He said "If I care about them, and I do, it's not kind to let them die without preparing for it. Folks need to talk with their families, talk with God, settle their affairs, and get ready. I give them what I'd want someone to give me."

As he was in all other respects a deeply kind and generous man, I knew he meant it. And if I ever need oncological care, he will be my first choice.

Obviously, some patients don't want to hear that kind of assessment and they don't want the people around them to be thinking about their death. I cannot say personally whether or not John McCain is in that kind of denial about his health, but I can say he's a pathological liar at this point; he's surrounded himself and his campaign with blatant lies, so it would be in character.

Since Brave New Films released their video John McCain's health records must be released this week, over 44,000 people have signed the petition requesting full disclosure, including over 2,000 doctors. My post about it a few days ago was written within an hour of finding out the diagnoses McCain ALREADY carried: My alarm bells rang loud and clear. Similarly, in Matt Stoller's column yesterday he tells of having visited his own dermatologist and asking for a reality check on McCain's malignant melanoma issue: He was told "It's bad. Real bad. And unlike most cancers, it doesn't really go away, even after years in remission."

John McCain is, in effect, applying for the job of the most powerful position on the planet. Whether or not he is going to die in office, or have a cancer remission (the treatment for which will render him utterly unable to perform his job duties), is a critical question that must be answered BEFORE we "hire" him by voting him in. As Kathy Geier points out in yesterday's G-Spot article, "For years, releasing a candidate's complete medical records has been standard practice for major party presidential candidates. The way the McCain has dealt with the medical records issue is highly unusual, to say the least...If McCain's medical history was entirely reassuring and he really were in excellent health, I doubt that the campaign would have dealt with his records the way they did. The campaign knows that voters have serious concerns about this issue, and if the medical records really were unproblematic, they wouldn't hesitate to release the whole enchilada to any reporter who asked, with no conditions and no strings attached."

If he is in fact a Dead Man Walking, then the choice of Sarah Palin as Vice President also becomes more than a Hail Mary pass intended to destroy any bounce from the wildly successful Democratic Convention. It becomes reckless in the extreme: Choosing an heir apparent who lies, engages in petty revenge, wants to know how to ban books, faithfully attends a church which believes dinosaurs were around 4000 years ago and Jews are punished by God for not believing in Jesus, has less foreign policy experience than a Delta flight attendant, doesn't know what the Bush Doctrine is, and has less than two years experience governing a state with a population less than that of Wichita, Kansas or Raleigh, North Carolina.

We know that the secret cabal, the Council for National Policy, who hopes to replace American democracy with religious rule (THEIR religion, not yours), are the people who investigated Sarah Palin and "chose" her for McCain as his VP. Since he accepted their decision, fundamentalist organizations have thrown themselves behind his campaign in a way they had not before. It raises the question of a deal. What would a dying man have to offer power brokers in order to have their backing for the U.S. Presidency?

Quite the deathbed request that would be.

Demand access to the medical records NOW. Or insist that we treat their refusal as proof of the answer they dare not give.